A high proportion of workplace transport accidents involve non-drivers, i.e. people who have no direct control of the vehicle or equipment. The most common causes of fatalities and injuries of workplace transport are strikes from vehicles, falls from vehicles, strikes from falling objects (loads) and tipping vehicles. 

The kinds of activities being performed when these accidents occur are:

  • Manoeuvring and reversing of vehicles.
  • Loading and unloading of vehicles.
  • Coupling and uncoupling of vehicles.
  • Repair and maintenance. 

Most workplaces depend on some form of transport on site. Companies that carry out logistics and transport operations are particularly at risk of accidents involving workplace transport. These include those firms involved in container transport, construction, agriculture and forestry.

Accidents involving workplace transport are often caused by failures in several different areas. This key article gives an overview of health and safety aspects to consider for workers who are involved in workplace transport, whether as driver or non-driver. The article begins by introducing the general safety issues relevant for workplace transport safety, and then it presents the most important risk factors and corresponding control measures associated with workplace transport.

Risk Assessment Workplace Transport

We should assess the risks involved in being near or operating any vehicle or other moveable equipment while at work

To do this we need to think about the existing problems that might cause harm during the planned task. We refer to these problems as hazards. In addition to hazards, we need to describe any risks. Risks are potential situations that might lead to harm during the task.

We need to think about the risks involved for both workers and other road users. During the risk assessment we should also identify any control actions that are already in place and find out whether they are sufficient to deal with the problem - if not we need to put additional controls in place.

Once we have looked at the threats involved in carrying out the work task, we then need to assess the likelihood that they will result in an incident or accident. We also need to assess the consequences of such an incident or accident, should it occur.

A risk assessment does not need to be complicated. The basic idea is to think carefully about what could go wrong and how serious the consequences would be, so that adequate control measures can be put in place.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has developed an interactive risk assessment tool to help. The Agency recommends a five step approach to carry out a risk assessment:

  • Step 1: Identify hazards and those at risk
  • Step 2: Evaluate and prioritise risks
  • Step 3. Decide on preventive action
  • Step 4. Take action
  • Step 5. Monitor and review

It is important to document the risk assessment. A document acts as a record to show whether and how the risk assessment has been done. It is useful for other workers who need to assess the risks for similar tasks in the future.

It is also a useful record for managers and inspectors. It is also important to put in place a robust reporting mechanism that helps ensure that any incident that happens while an employee is working is reported to management. We should investigate all such incidents to find out what caused them. We should then develop and implement control actions to prevent such incidents happening again. 

Risk control levels Workplace transport

Controlling exposure to occupational hazards is fundamental for the protection of workers.

European legislation establishes a hierarchy of measures that employers need to take to control the risks to workers. The control methods at the top of the list are more effective. They address the potential hazard (the thing that could cause harm), rather than just reduce the risk (the harm that the hazard could cause).

The hierarchy is summarized as follows (using lift trucks as an example):

  1. Elimination (e.g. avoid the use of lift trucks in the workplace)
  2. Substitution (e.g. use electric lift trucks to avoid the potential ‘hazard’ caused by exhaust fumes of ‘normal’ lift trucks)
  3. Engineering controls (e.g. place a physical barrier between lift truck routes and pedestrians routes to lower the risk of collisions or accidents)
  4. Administrative controls (e.g.  train the workers to safely use a lift truck)
  5. Personal protective equipment (e.g. protect the worker himself, wearing reflective clothing)

Safety culture Workplace Transport Safety

An organization that has an adequate or positive safety culture is one that values and has a strong focus on safety.

The following elements have been identified as characteristics of a good safety culture (Reason, 1997):

a)  Informed culture: The organization collects information about accidents and incidents, and carries out proactive countermeasures through safety audits and surveys on safety climate.

b) Reporting culture: All employees report their errors or near misses, and take part in surveys, audits and other safety activity.

c)  Just culture: An atmosphere of trust encourages and rewards its employees for providing information on errors and incidents. Employees know that they will receive fair and just treatment for any mistake they make.

d) Flexible culture: The organization has the ability to change its practices.

e)  Learning culture: The organization improves safety by learning from incident reports, safety audits and so forth.

A good safety culture demands that top managers, take a leading role and serve as good examples. Manager commitment to safety and the company’s ability to use information to develop and improve safe working practices are perhaps the most important elements of a safety culture within an organization. A good way to set up an incident reporting system and limit administrative burden is to use electronic data recording devices, like on-board computers and event data recorders (“black boxes”). These allow us to register and analyse driving behavior, and by doing so gain insight into driving style (e.g. the amount of heavy braking) and unsafe behavior. Links between unsafe driving and accidents may be revealed, and act as important incentives to invest in safety and build a better safety culture. These systems also be benefit the company’s core business by increasing driving efficiency and decreasing the number of incidents and the time and costs associated with them.

Safety culture schemes require that managers are visibly committed to safety. This is difficult when the workers are normally away from the company premises, as is the case for professional drivers. Still, examples show that management can promote safe road behaviour by emphasizing the value of safe driving, promoting the sharing of information on accidents and near misses, and discussing the underlying causes of accidents.

There is a growing interest in safety culture in professional road transport. The importance of safety culture for actual safety has been clearly demonstrated and documented.

Site layout and design

A major cause of transport accidents is poor workplace design and layout.

Most transport worksite incidents are caused by pedestrians moving around the workplace and interacting with moving vehicles and various loading and unloading activities. Those most at risk work with or near vehicles such as cars, vans, trucks, trailers, tractors, lift trucks or earth-moving equipment. Customers and visitors to the workplace can also be put at risk.

Careful planning and design of the workplace and traffic routes will reduce the risk of an accident. General recommendations for safe worksite layout are:

  • avoid blind corners, sharp turns and limit traffic crossings;
  • segregate pedestrians from vehicle routes;
  • reduce reversing by implementing one-way systems.

Competent safety management prevents most transport accidents by ensuring effective planning, appropriate training of drivers and workers, and the appropriate use of vehicles. Management need to take responsibility for assessing the risks and identifying and putting in place control measures that are seen to work effectively. Workers must also be trained properly and they must use the correct systems and procedures.

Consulting workers is an important part of successfully managing workplace transport safety. Workers can help to identify hazards, assess risks and develop ways to control or remove risks. Consulting workers can also increase motivation and enhance the working atmosphere.

A traffic management plan can help to manage the risks and communicate information regarding control measures. All workers should be familiar with the traffic management plan and receive sufficient information, instruction, training and supervision. The traffic management plan should be reviewed regularly, and kept up to date to ensure it is effective. 

The key issues to consider for managing traffic at a construction workplace include:

  • Keeping pedestrians and vehicles apart, both on site and at entrances and exits to the workplace
  • Minimising vehicle movements
  • Considering the risks of vehicles reversing
  • Ensuring visibility of vehicles and pedestrians
  • Ensuring traffic signs are optimal for safety
  • Developing a traffic management plan.

Goods handling

Many work sites involving transport deal with the transportation and storage of goods.

Warehouses are a typical case in point. Such activities necessarily involve risks because goods may tip over, fall from above or otherwise strike workers and equipment. Goods are handled more and more by vehicles such as lift trucks, but most goods handling still requires some manual lifting with its associated injury risks.

Fatigue and time pressure

Fatigue means that a worker feels tired and drowsy and is not adequately suited to perform his tasks.

We know that workers who are fatigued are more likely to have a serious accident than workers who are not fatigued. Fatigue may also lead to workers falling asleep, missing important information etc. Goods handling is often governed by “just-in-time” regulations potentially producing stress and time pressure on workers. Time pressure and stress decrease performance and produce errors and possibly incidents and injuries.

Vehicle selection and maintenance

Vehicles and mobile work equipment in the workplace cause accidents.

Some of these are due to the use of vehicles that are not fit for purpose, others because the vehicle was poorly maintained. Proper vehicle selection and maintenance is therefore key to accident prevention.

The vehicle or mobile work equipment must be of correct type and size for the work activities and the workplace. Workers, and in particular vehicle drivers and operators, should be consulted prior to the selection, purchase or assessment of any workplace transport. Appropriate design and layout of vehicles is required to ensure that drivers can use the vehicle safely.

Vehicles and mobile equipment should be equipped with the best possible safety features. Vehicles without roll-over protection may cause fatal accidents if they overturn, the risk of which is increased on uneven surfaces like those often found in agriculture, construction or quarrying. Other important safety equipment includes control interlocks, external mirrors, video cameras, reversing lights or safety bars etc. Blind-spot mirrors can prevent accidents with pedestrians.

Good vehicle maintenance is key to the prevention of workplace transport accidents. Competent technical staff should inspect the vehicle at regular, specified intervals. Drivers should also carry out basic safety checks before they use the vehicles (e.g. check brakes, lights, tyre pressures). A basic checklist should be used to help drivers and technicians ensure that the vehicle is in proper condition.

Preventive maintenance programmes are also normally required.

Cargo handling, loading and unloading

One of the most hazardous activities in the transport sector is loading and unloading of goods. The goods are often delivered at the last minute and have to be unloaded very quickly. Time pressures and tight deadlines can lead to unsafe working practices during loading and unloading. According to the former statutory accident insurance for the German transport sector (Berufsgenossenschaft für Fahrzeughaltungen, 2007), more than one-third of all accidents in the transport sector occur during loading and unloading.

Loading and unloading is done manually or with the use of lift trucks, power-pushers or other tools. Risks may result from interaction with the machines and tools, from loading activities, or from the load itself.

Specific risk factors

The three main causes of accidents while loading and unloading are:

  • Falls from vehicle and platforms while loading.
  • Strikes from moving vehicles.
  • Strikes from falling objects or loads

Specific risks are involved in manually filling, emptying or opening transport containers. If the container is overfull, its heavy doors may swing open and strike a worker.  Workers can be exposed to harmful chemicals when entering containers loaded with hazardous materials, or containers that have recently been fumigated. Manually emptying the contents of containers carries the risk of back injury or other musculoskeletal problems.

Effective control measures

Some effective control measures are summarized as follows:

  • Centre the load on the forks as close to the mast as possible to minimize the risk of the truck turning over or dropping its load.
  • Avoid overloading a lift truck -- it impairs control and may cause the truck to overturn.
  • Do not place extra weight on the rear of a counterbalanced lift truck in order to counter an overload.
  • Adjust the load to the lowest position when transporting.
  • Pile and cross-tier all stacked loads correctly.

On-site driving

Vehicles in motion constitute a risk factor to pedestrian workers, other vehicles, goods, objects and the site infrastructure. The most common cause of transport accidents is people being struck or run over by a vehicle. Limited space, improper design, untrained driver/workers, insufficiently equipped vehicles are the main problems of risks caused by vehicles moving at the work site.

Specific risk factors


Vehicles reversing present a particular high risk. Nearly a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur during reversing manoeuvers. Poor visibility, poorly designed interaction, poor signage and lack of speed restrictions may contribute.

Coupling operations

Incorrect coupling and uncoupling of trailers and unsafe parking can be very dangerous to the driver and to others. As a cause of fatal work-related accidents, coupling and uncoupling by drivers of heavy goods vehicles ranks second only to road accidents. Typical unsafe coupling practices are leaving the vehicle without stopping the engine or applying the brakes, or using a slope to help couple trailers to vehicles. The risk of being crushed between vehicle and trailer is very high and in most cases fatal.

Effective control measures

The most effective way of preventing accidents is to eliminate or reduce the need to reverse or manoeuver. To do this one should use:

  • One-way traffic systems
  • Drive-through loading and unloading systems
  • Adequate design of turning points

If it is not possible to reduce or eliminate reversing and manoeuvring, use other prevention measures:

  • Mark reversing areas clearly
  • Separate pedestrians from reversing areas
  • Fix mirrors at blind corners
  • Ensure all vehicles have reversing alarms
  • Fit rear-view equipment such as cameras or fish-eye or convex mirrors
  • Ensure everyone wears high-visibility clothing on site

To prevent an accident from improper coupling or uncoupling the following prevention measures apply:

  • Train drivers in safe coupling and uncoupling practices
  • Set up a monitoring system to check that safe practices are followed
  • Ensure that the site is level and firm enough to carry out safe coupling operations
  • Ensure coupling is never performed by just one person

Temporary workplaces

Temporary workplaces, forestry work, quarries and farms present a special challenge because traffic routes for vehicles and pedestrians change as the work progresses. These sites often have poor, uneven and unsealed surfaces, and there may be slopes or unforeseen obstacles. The most common cause of serious and fatal injuries in agriculture involves moving and overturning vehicles.

Specific risk factors

Vehicles on construction sites and in forestry and farm operations are often heavy and the driver may have limited visibility. Drivers need special training and vehicles should be equipped with special safety features like extra mirrors, camera systems, or anti-roll protection.

Maintenance of vehicles and traffic routes is essential to safe workplace transport.  Traffic routes should be designed for purpose, have firm and even surfaces, be properly drained, and there should be no unsafe or steep slopes. A traffic management plan can help to manage the risks and to ensure safe vehicle movement. 

Working with lift trucks

Warehouses, factories, shipping yards, freight terminals and other work sites use lift trucks to lift, stack and transfer loads. Workers who handle and store materials often use different types of truck: platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, reach trucks and other specialized industrial lift trucks powered by electrical motors, diesel or petrol engines.

Every year about 5500 people are killed in workplace accidents in the EU, of which about a third are related to transport. The most common causes of these accidents are collisions with moving vehicles (e.g. during reversing), falls from vehicles, overturning vehicles or strikes by objects falling from vehicles. Lift trucks are involved in many workplace accidents.

Specific risk factors


The compact design of lift trucks increases their maneuverability, but it also increases instability when carrying loads under certain circumstances. A lift truck can tip over by rolling or overturning sideways, or by pitching forward, when the back wheels lift off the ground. A number of factors can cause a lift truck to tip over, including excess braking or acceleration, an over-heavy, top-heavy or unbalanced load, operating across gradients, collisions with other vehicles and uneven ground (e.g. potholes or soft ground). According to one report, 35 % of the drivers involved in fatal accidents due to overturning had not been trained.


Lack of maintenance is another common cause of accidents involving lift trucks. Poor vehicle and site maintenance may lead to unsafe vehicle brakes, slip hazards (for both vehicles and pedestrians), poor lighting, and inadequate signage, barriers or other safety features around the lift truck. Broken steps, rails and handles may lead to trips or falls from the lift truck.


Pedestrian workers or site visitors are often struck or run over by lift trucks. Pedestrian workers comprised 20% of the 1021 forklift-related fatalities occurring between 1980 and 1994 in the US. Reversing operations in particular increase the risk of accidents involving pedestrians. The risk is also higher when trucks and pedestrians have to share traffic routes. Another important cause is poor workplace design, for instance when there is not enough room to manoeuver, lack of clear signage and speed limits, or obstructions or unsafe edges along the loading bays or traffic routes.

Objects falling from lift trucks

Poorly distributed or unbalanced loads can cause the load to shift, increasing the risk that it will fall from the lift truck. There is also increased risk of falling loads during stacking operations. Strikes from objects falling off lift trucks are reported to be the third most common cause of major accidents involving lift trucks in the UK.

Effective control measures

Workers who handle and store materials often use fork trucks, platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, and other specialized industrial lift trucks powered by electrical motors or petrol or diesel engines. Employers must make these workers aware of the safety requirements relating to the design, maintenance, and use of these lift trucks.

Effective countermeasures can relate to technology, the organization, or behaviour of the driver.

EU Directives require adherence to minimum workplace or construction site health and safety requirements. This implies that employers must ensure safe work equipment, provide health and safety signs where hazards cannot be avoided, and provide personal protective equipment if the risks cannot be prevented by other means. Employers are required to follow a general framework to manage health and safety. This includes the assessment of risks and their prevention or elimination through prioritisation of collective measures (see also paragraph 2.2, Steps for Risk Control)

Technical measures include designing the workplace to minimize or eliminate the need for reversing operations. A good design will also ensure that the traffic routes are wide enough for the density and type of traffic that will use it. It will also serve to remove obstacles, eliminate sharp bends, protect sharp edges, and set mirrors at blind corners. Other technical measures include maintenance and regular inspections of people, lift trucks, equipment and site. Employers should also ensure that their purchase policies care consistent with the use of optimally safe and suitable lift trucks in the workplace.

Organizational measures include recruitment, selection and training of lift truck drivers to ensure that each has good mobility, vision and hearing, and can operate the vehicle safely and carry out daily maintenance effectively. Employers should ensure that only authorized drivers operate lift trucks. Other examples of organizational measures include setting clear rules and procedures for truck operations, but also for pedestrians passing lift truck routes. When pedestrians are not segregated from lift truck traffic, clear markings and warning signs should be introduced and taken accounted for in the company’s safety policy.

Behavioral aspects can further reduce the risk of accidents. Employers are obliged to co-operate actively with employers with regard to preventive measures. They should use safety equipment and follow instructions and procedures in accordance with the rules and training given.

Pedestrians should stick to the specified safe routes and always make sure the lift truck driver has seen them. Lift truck drivers should drive safely and always drive with their loads placed in the lower position, wear a seat belt, look out for co-workers, keep their speed within safe limits, and turn off the lift truck when making any adjustments to the load, or before starting to handle the goods.

Container handling

When working with containers, general risks for workers include falling from container tops, and manual handling when filling or emptying containers (especially when the cargo is poorly stacked). Another risk is injury from hazardous chemicals on opening the containers.

This key article focuses primarily on the transportation of closed containers and therefore excludes the manual handling, opening and handling of the cargo inside the container. There are several potential hazards when handling closed containers during transport in the workplace. For example, structural failure can occur during loading or unloading the container due to overloading or lack of maintenance. In this case the whole container may fall or suddenly open during lifting, with the result that the cargo may fall. An even higher risk occurs when containers are moved or fixed on board ships. A worker can get crushed between containers, or by the falling end of a flatrack when handling a container.

Effective control measures

Container safety is a large topic. The German “Container Handbook” covers over 1500 pages with safety principles and guidelines. Only some very general countermeasures can be given here:

  • Use appropriate, undamaged containers.
  • Ensure proper recruitment, selection and training of workers and drivers who will handle containers.
  • Plan the container lifting process carefully. The plan should include the order of work, route, weight, slinging/spreader method and what to do in event of a shifted load or bad weather.
  • Use a safe site layout when handling containers. For instance, operators may be exposed to passing traffic or containers when inserting or removing twistlocks at the quayside. In such cases a safe workplace can be provided by using a special platform for removal / insertion of the twistlocks, or by constructing barriers alongside the legs of lifting cranes at both sides of the quay.
  • Use well-maintained equipment and vehicles to handle the containers. Always have lifting equipment thoroughly examined following ‘exceptional circumstances’, for instance following damage, failure, change in use, or long periods of disuse.
  • Ensure that vehicles are suitable for carrying the different containers to be handled.
  • Avoid overfilling or loading containers unevenly. Make sure to fill the containers with the appropriate weight in order to avoid accidents occurring with overfull containers.
  • In order to prevent falls from height, use a safety restraint when a safety platform cannot be used. Only use measures to stop falls (fall arrest) if there is no other safe way to do the work.

Dangerous goods handling

Dangerous goods are substances or articles with hazardous properties which may, if handled incorrectly, explode, asphyxiate (choke), burn, explode, poison, corrode or pollute. Alternatively, they may become unstable if mixed with other products.

General risk factors

Accidents may occur during the handling of dangerous goods as they do during the handling ‘normal’ goods. Handlers may be struck by a passing vehicle or hit by falling goods. Extra hazards involving transport of dangerous goods include explosions, fires and vapor generated by stacked or transported goods. These risks are especially likely in the event of an accident.

Effective countermeasures

Besides those general measures taken to ensure the safe transport of any type of goods, special considerations must be made when handling and transporting dangerous goods. Packers, loaders, their supervisors and drivers need to know about the characteristics of certain dangerous goods so that when they are packed and loaded they do not cause danger. Under the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (abbreviated to ADR in French), drivers of vehicles with tanks and certain tank components, and some drivers of vehicles carrying dangerous goods in packages, are required to hold a special vocational certificate of training. This is sometimes referred to informally as an ‘ADR Certificate’. Drivers with this certificate are trained to be aware of the hazards arising when carrying dangerous goods. They are trained to take steps to reduce the likelihood of an incident to take place. If an incident occurs, they are trained to take all necessary measures for their own safety and that of the public and environment. Furthermore, ADR-certified drivers are given practical experience of actions they will need to take. Some powered industrial trucks are designed, constructed, and assembled for use in atmospheres containing flammable vapors or dusts. These include powered industrial trucks equipped with additional safeguards to their exhaust, fuel, and electrical systems. These trucks have no electrical equipment (including the ignition), isolated circuits and/or temperature limitation features. Drivers may use these specially designed powered industrial trucks in locations when they process, handle or use flammable liquids or gases. The liquids, vapors, or gases themselves should be confined within closed containers or closed systems and not allowed to escape. Vehicles transporting dangerous good should be equipped with eyewash, other first-aid and fire extinguishers. The packaging carrying the dangerous goods should be suitable, approved, undamaged and appropriately marked (not false or misleading) as required. 

Working with subcontractors

Where contractors or sub-contractors are employed at the workplace, the site operator or manager will need to take measures to ensure that their activities fit in with other workplace activities without adding undue risk. Working with subcontractors may pose extra risks because they will be less informed than those who normally work on the site, about the workplace and critical safety issues. This risk can be reduced by informing and communicating with the subcontractors, and coordinating them in a way that is optimal for safety. Subcontractors should actively cooperate on safety with those who normally work at the workplace.

Specific risk factors

Contractors are often unfamiliar with the workplace and the safety policy. Contractors may not know how responsibilities are distributed, or may be unfamiliar with the equipment on site. Additional risk factors may arise if communication fails due to language issues, terminology or poor co-ordinatation of the work. Effective control measures include that the employer should:

  • Check the suitability of the contractor as well as the suitability and maintenance standard of their vehicles.
  • Provide the contractor with appropriate health and safety information
  • Inform them about specific risks and hazards at the workplace, routes and walkways, vehicles and equipment on site as well as on other people at the workplace.
  • Monitor and supervise contractors  on-site (monitoring and supervisory measures should be agreed before work starts).
  • Ensure that contractors in turn provide information and monitor and supervise subcontractors. The contractor has to cooperate with the client.

See also EU-OSHA's publications on OSH in the supply chain